Communication in a Pandemic World


Indiana is opening up. Many school districts are welcoming students for in-person classes, gyms and fitness centers are moving away from only virtual options and restaurants are seeing more diners opt for indoor seating options. No matter where you fall on the COVID response spectrum, communication is key. Open, transparent communication is critical for families to feel comfortable and confident in the decisions they make for their safety. 

As we move into our seventh month of COVID awareness, my husband and I often find our conversations monopolized by coronavirus. We are a family of socially distanced, mask wearers who are still ordering groceries online for no contact pick up or delivery and religiously wash our hands and apply hand sanitizer. But, we also recognize that others may have different mindsets and priorities. And, to each their own. (This is a judge-free zone. I have never walked in your shoes, therefore I have no right in assuming what’s right for your family. It’s YOUR family, you’re the adult making the decisions and I support you in that.) I cannot change the mind of a grown adult who chooses to ignore the scientific facts around mask-wearing. Similarly, I cannot fault the parent who has no other choice (or simply wants/needs to…) but to send their child to school. But there is something I do have control over when it comes to others’ choices in this pandemic era, and that’s requesting honest communication on their actions.

My husband recently compared COVID to the sex talk he remembers from high school. A teacher carefully explained that when you have unprotected sex with a partner, you’re essentially having unprotected sex with all of their previous partners, too. Yikes. This thought process also applies to COVID. For example, if you go to a friend’s house for an intimate, mask-less dinner party. You’re not only exposing yourself to the other dinner party guests but also all of the activities those guests have previously participated in. Do they have kids in school? Now you’re potentially exposed to their kids and thus their kids’ 25 classmates’ germs. Do they go to work? Now you’re potentially exposed to their coworkers’ germs. Did they attend a wedding last weekend? Now you’re potentially exposed to the other wedding guests’ germs. Do they have kids in school, and go to work and just got home from a wedding? Oh boy. But, I digress, just like the message the sex educator was trying to get across to a roomful of pubescent high schoolers (Yikes again!) COVID exposure is exponentially increased by the environments and situations you put yourself in.

Like I mentioned before, this is a judge-free zone. You’re going to make your own decisions for your family. And you should and deserve to do so without owing anybody an explanation. But, I also think you should be clearly communicating to others you come in contact with so that they’re able to also make their own, informed decisions.

Now, I know I just said you don’t owe anybody an explanation, but here is mine. We recently decided to send my 4-year-old to preschool. We spent all summer going back and forth on what was the right decision for our family. In the end, we used a checklist from the CDC to help guide our discussion and made the good ol’ trusty pro/con list. Cons included: we’ve avoided sickness so far by quarantining, we have a newborn at home, we don’t feel 100% confident that school will be safe. Pros included: this entire program has only eight kids enrolled, masks will be worn at all times, they get to spend time outside in fresh air, this will help physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially stimulate our 4 year old who has been struggling. While it’s hard for me to not launch into this lengthy explanation to defend my decision (did I mention I struggle hardcore with confrontation and am a big people pleaser?), the most important thing I need to do is simply communicate that my daughter is in school.

I need to let the people I will come in contact with that my daughter’s exposure (and thus mine) is increased because she goes to preschool 3x a week. I told my parents. Will they feel more comfortable if we wear masks around them now? Maybe. I told my book club. Will they want to sit farther away from me on the patio at the next meeting? Maybe. I told my fitness buddies. Will they want us to all wear masks and distance at our next work out? Maybe. I told these people because I owe it to them so they can make their own decisions.

I recently saw on TikTok a great example of COVID communication. At a couples’ wedding, they had a table with a “Take a mask…” sign followed by a series of color-coordinated baskets. There were blue masks in a basket labeled “Social Distancing”. There were yellow masks in a basket labeled “Ok with conversations”. There were purple masks in a basket labeled “Ok with hugs and high fives”. I thought this was an excellent example of clear communication, thus helping others comfortably navigate that situation. What are the ways you’re communicating with your friends and family? What are things you wish your friends and family would do differently in communicating with you? Leave your comments below!